The great Chris Christie pile-on: Why his rich allies are jumping ship

Chris Christie's pre-campaign is in trouble, as big donors smell weakness and jump to Jeb

By Jim Newell
Published February 20, 2015 5:02PM (EST)
  (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)
(AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

Poor Chris Christie. He's getting beaten up in all of the papers today. Everyone seems to have noticed at once that there's not much space for his presidential campaign, and that he might be the odd man out. Most importantly: the big-dollar bundlers and gatekeepers of the tristate area, who only a few years ago were all on their knees begging him to run, have noticed this. And they all have their excuses for why they're more interested in throwing their money at Jeb Bush, or even Scott Walker or Marco Rubio, instead of Christie.

There is Tom Kean Sr., the former New Jersey governor who was Christie's political mentor. Well, guess what, Tom Kean Sr. is more into Bush these days. Like a lot of NJ/NY Republicans, he appreciates Bush's pledge to not pander to conservative movement crazy people (whereas Christie seems intent on going "the full Iowa" for whatever reason):

“When [Bush] said he has strong views on issues and won’t change them to win an early primary, it showed me he has real convictions,” Kean said. “The Republican Party in the past has had problems with people who changed their views in order to win a primary, only to have to scramble back in a general election. Voters don’t find that kind of behavior credible.”

Kean offers another line to the Times in its Christie hit piece today: Christie is too much of a micromanager. He's "gotten in the habit of kind of doing everything himself," Kean says. "You can’t do that in a presidential campaign." Uh huh. What Kean is trying to say in all of these quotes is that he's still really pissed at Christie for trying to oust his son from his position as New Jersey's Senate minority leader.

There is Joe Kyrillos, a New Jersey state senator who chaired Christie's 2009 gubernatorial campaign. Guess who Joe Kyrillos had dinner with recently? Jeb Bush.

"Kyrillos is a very good bellwether for what’s happening in New Jersey," Spencer Zwick, Mitt Romney's former finance guy, tells the Washington Post. Zwick is a fairly wired-in, respected guy among the big money people. He's the only senior figure from Romney's 2012 campaign who enhanced his reputation during that process. He's the only guy who turned in an unequivocally excellent performance in his role, which was to raise gobs and gobs of cash. Zwick, to be honest, is a better bellwether than any New Jersey boss, and here's his perspective on Christie:

Zwick, who has not committed to a 2016 candidate, added, “Personally, I have had my own reservations about what Governor Christie did at a key moment in the last presidential election and let it be known to him and others,” a reference to extensive public praise by Christie of President Obama for the federal response to Hurricane Sandy in the late stages of the campaign. “But I do not believe he had bad intentions and I have moved on.”

That Zwick still brings this up when speaking to a Washington Post reporter indicates that he has very much not moved on from it, and that's a serious problem for Chris Christie.

The most delicious anecdote in the Post's story, though, is about Lawrence Bathgate, a major Republican party fundraiser from New Jersey. I'm hard-pressed to think of a better illustration of the fickleness and selfishness of the megadonor class that runs our country. Here's a man who could shift a lot of resources from one candidate to another, help ensure that one guy becomes a major party presidential nominee instead of another. And all he needs to make that decision is the fact that Chris Christie wants to ruin the view from his mansion:

Another former Christie ally, New Jersey attorney Lawrence E. Bathgate II, hosted the Jan. 8 dinner in New York to introduce Bush to some of Christie’s top supporters.

Bathgate had been in Christie’s camp for years, but their relationship publicly soured after Christie’s administration pursued a plan to build protective dunes on the state’s coastline where Bathgate has an oceanfront home.

They all have their reasons for moving away from Christie towards another establishment-bracket candidate. He tried to screw over my son, he's a micromanager, it's hard to get a meeting with him, he hugged Obama after a hurricane, he's fucking up my view of the ocean. That there's such a range of reasons, now, suggests that these are all secondary factors. There's something more fundamental at play when megadonors move en masse from one candidate to another: they don't think Christie's chances are so good anymore. His tough-guy schtick has lost its novelty, and old scandals linger as new ones surface. What was his greatest asset a couple of years ago -- his broad, cross-demographic popularity in the blue state that he governs -- is now his greatest liability, as he's tremendously unpopular while his state suffers from credit downgrades. If Christie was still the Next Big Thing as he was in 2012-13, these people would put aside their quibbles and stay behind him. Alas.

And yet not all is lost for Christie. Even if Bush and Walker and Rubio suck up most of the GOP's donor base, he still has a deep donor base in the form of one very rich person. Ken Langone, the Home Depot co-founder who's always good for a quote, remains loyal to Christie. Langone has a couple billion dollars to his name and, thanks to super PACs, he can keep Christie's bid afloat for as long as he feels like. As long as Chris Christie doesn't ruin the view from Ken Langone's house, he'll be okay with money.

Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

MORE FROM Jim Newell